There is no such thing as “too soon” for learning sign language. With the help of sign language, even the non-verbal little ones will be able to express what they want and need. Give your baby a means of communication, and both of you will benefit from such a change in the relationship. Aside from less frustration (on both ends), what sign language can bring is:
- better understanding between you and your baby
- help in developing baby’s motor skills
- fewer temper tantrums
- the motivation for increased communication skills
I know that hearing about all the amazing benefits of sign language only invites more questions. This is exactly why this post is here – to provide you with the answers. Here is everything you need to know about teaching your baby to communicate with baby sign language.
Will Teaching Sign Language Lead to Speech Delay?
Now, this is something that many parents fear at first. But let me clear that up right away. Sign language won’t hurt (or slower down) your baby’s speech development. It’s quite the opposite.
Before releasing the book Baby Signs, Dr. Acredolo and Dr. Goodwyn conducted a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The study aimed to determine the correlation between baby sign language and verbal language skills. What the professors found is that babies who used sign language developed verbal language much faster. There you have it!
When to Start?
As soon as your little one shows an active interest in communicating, he is ready to start learning sign language. If you want some more specific suggestions, the AAP claims that if you start teaching your baby how to sign when he is around 6-7 months old, he’ll start using them independently around 8-9 months old. The purpose of baby sign language is to help children who lack the verbal skills to express their needs. This is why the perfect time for babies to use sign language is between 8 or 9 months. That’s when they become conscious of what they want.
Sign language also comes in handy for older children (from 18 to 24 months) to aid them in their desire to speak their minds. With the help of sign language, your baby can bridge that communication gap.
Repetition is Key
As the famous saying goes, “repetition is the mother of skill.” The same applies to baby sign language. If you want to see results, you have to practice sign language with your little one DAILY. I can’t stress enough how important regular practice is. Boost the repetition by getting the whole family on board. The more people use sign language, the easier the baby will remember it.
You can even print out a sign language chart from BabySignLanguage.com and put up on your refrigerator to remind everyone to use it consistently.
Where to Start?
You want to teach your baby the signs that are meaningful and useful for your communication. The foundation is to help your child express their everyday needs.
Here are the 13 most important signs that you should start with:
Mommy: Open your palm with fingers facing up and tap your thumb to the chin.
Daddy: Open your palm with fingers facing up and tap your thumb to the forehead.
Sleep: Start with fingers extended and spread apart. Beginning with your hand over your face, move your fingers down to end with your hand below your chin and your fingers touching your thumb as you close your eyes.
Drink: Make a C shape with your hand (in the form of a cup) and place it to the mouth.
Hungry: Take your hand and make it into a ‘C’ shape with your palm facing the center of your body. Start with your ‘C’ hand around your neck and move it down towards your stomach.
Eat (Food): Tap the tips of your fingers to your mouth. Keep the palm facing down. The thumb should be touching the fingers.
More: Curl in the fingers to make an O shape and touch the tips of the fingers a few times.
All done (finished): Put your hands up with palms facing towards you and then turn your palms to face out.
Milk: Squeeze your fingers in and out like squeezing a cow’s udder.
Poop: Clench both hands into fists and stack them one on top of the other. Tuck the thumb of the bottom fist inside the upper fist. Pull the bottom hand down (while keeping your thumb extended).
Book: Put your hands together, palm-to-palm. Then keeping your pinkies together, open up your hands as if opening up a book.
Down: Lower the hand while facing the palm down with index finger pointing to the ground.
Bath: Make two fists and move them up and down in front of the chest. The movement will look like your scrubbing yourself.
For more words, use the baby sign language dictionary that is available on BabySignLanguage.com. Your goal should be to adapt your baby’s sign language vocabulary to their daily routine.
Before we part our ways, here are a few additional (and very useful) tips that speech pathologists recommend:
- Keep an eye on your baby’s signs. Your baby can invent his own signs. If that happens, use the signs they prefer.
- Speak while you sign. Encourage your baby to make a connection between the sign and the spoken word. Say the words out loud in addition to signing.
- Let your baby look at you. Babies are attracted to face gestures. So, the baby will notice the signs easier if you make them close to your face.
- Follow up with a reinforcement right away. When the baby gets what he is asking for promptly, they are more likely to memorize and adopt the signs.
- Use the objects as helpful tools. If you are trying to sign for a specific object, keep it close when signing. Let the baby associate the object with the sign visually. If you don’t have such an object near you, print out flashcards that show off what you are signing.
There you go, my fellow signers! You now have all the tools and information to teach your baby how to sign. However, there is one last necessity that you must attain. That necessity is patience. This journey won’t be short nor easy. But what’s important is that it will be worth it.